Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Directed By: Tobe Hooper, Written By: L.M. Kit Carson & Tobe Hooper, Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow, Bill Johnson.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was a seminal masterpiece of low budget filmmaking. Made at the tail end of the Vietnam war, Tobe Hooper’s slasher classic was very much a product of its time. While not as overtly gory as its title might have you believe, Texas Chainsaw had a raw, grimy feel to it that’s hard to wash off. It’s a cruel, uncompromising 83 minutes, showcasing the darkest side of humanity and devoid of humour to alleviate the horror. This is in no way a negative synopsis. We at reelhorrorshow love this movie. It’s an exposed nerve of guerrilla filmmaking excellence. It’s also what sets it at odds with its sequel that arrived in theatres 12 years later…
Once again directed by Tobe Hooper, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the antithesis of its 1974 counterpart. Coming off as more of a black comedy, part 2 is a slicker, bloodier, more polished affair that divides fans of the original down the middle. It’s a very different movie and therefore a very misunderstood film. One that I happen to be a big fan of. It is, again, very much a product of its time.
The story introduces us to Stretch (Caroline Williams), radio DJ and instant scream queen icon. While running an open request night, Stretch is subjected to several annoying prank phone calls from two over zealous, preppy assholes. During one of these calls and unable to hang up, Stretch is a witness as the obnoxious douchebags run afoul of the cannibalistic Sawyer clan and are subsequently disposed of, at the business end of Leatherface's chainsaw.
Having recorded the ordeal, Stretch takes her tape to Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a policeman, gone rogue to track down those responsible for the murder of his niece and nephew, (Sally and Franklin from the first movie), 12 years earlier. Lefty convinces Stretch to play the tape live on-air hoping to bait the killers out of hiding and vowing to be there to take them down once they show themselves.
Stretch agrees and upon playing the recording finds herself visited by the utterly bonkers Chop Top (Bill Moseley). Unable to convince Chop Top to leave and with no sign of Lefty, Stretch knows she's in trouble. Her fears are confirmed by the sudden appearance of Leatherface, this time played by Bill Johnson, who chases her down while Chop Top sets about beating her assistant LG (Lou Perryman) senseless, with a hammer.
Leatherface takes a liking to Stretch and after behaving like a horny lunatic, leaves her alive. After convincing Chop Top that he killed her, the two madmen take LG and flee the radio station.
With still no Lefty to be seen, Stretch, unwisely goes after the maniacs hoping to rescue LG from their clutches, before they can use him as the ingredients in their award-winning chilli.
Lefty having used Stretch as bait follows her to the Sawyer hideout and having recently purchased chainsaws of his own goes completely bat shit crazy and sets about dismantling their lair, on a path that will lead him head to head with Leatherface and what has to be cinemas first chainsaw, sword fight.
With LG dead, Stretch makes a break for it, and in the film's conclusion, has one last showdown with Chop Top who she eventually dispatches with a chainsaw, she plucks from the skeletal remains of his dead grandmother.
It’s fair to say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is nuttier than Squirrel shit. Dennis Hopper, who made Blue Velvet the same year, utilises the same madcap acting chops that he brought to the role of Frank in David Lynch’s classic. It's baffling to try to understand what drew Hopper to Texas Chainsaw 2, but it works as Lefty is just one of many oddball characters that Hopper has played over the years. Let's not forget his turn in Rivers Edge (1986). He brings the ham in spades.
Caroline Williams is great as Stretch. Her performance appears almost exhausting. At times, her character appears so genuinely fucked up by what’s taking place, that you could be forgiven for thinking that the cast and crew have actually, purposely traumatised her. Stretch has become such a fan favourite that Williams reprised the character again (sort of) in Adam Green’s Hatchet 3.
As I mentioned before, the gore is ramped up for part 2 as the original was a fairly bloodless affair. We have a half decapitation, chainsaw disembowelment and in my favourite scene in the movie, Stretch is tied up and made to wear LG’s face. LG wakes up and both parties are forced to stare at each other in horror. Stretch, because not only does she have no way of removing LG’s
face from her own but is also confronted with LG’s facelessness and LG, horrified to see someone else wearing his face. It’s brutal. Who would't be upset by this?
The greatest discovery of Chainsaw 2, however, is Bill Moseley as Chop Top. Chop Top is a whacked-out Vietnam vet with a metal plate where his skull should be. He has a nasty habit of scratching the skin around the plate with the end of a heated piece of wire and then subsequently nibbling the loose skin off the end of the wire. Moseley plays the part with an insane energy that would go on to define his career, thus sealing his place as a horror movie legend.
I can understand why devotees of the 1974 original may have found part 2’s drastic change of tone off-putting but it’s exactly this that endears me to this movie. It’s the same reason I’m such a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). I admire bold efforts to try something different. Sure, it doesn’t always work but I believe that with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it was a success. You may or may not agree with me, but I will forever defend this movie as a genre classic.